My Almost Debt Free College Journey

My Almost Debt Free College Journey

Imagine a determined student with a desire and passion to be the first in her family to attend and graduate college and go on to grad school without killing her future with debt?

Then imagine her frustration and fear knowing the quality of education at her local high school was declining and it was not viewable favorable by colleges?

At age 13, I had no idea how to get admitted and graduate college, let alone where to find the money for it. But along with my grandmother’s help, I was determined to figure it out.

Picture 2 women, one aged 13 the other age 70, separated by 4 generations, yet pulled together by one unbreakable bond – our love for each other and are determination to work towards a common goal of getting me to college and being able to afford it.

The two us made life altering choices.

For me, I asked to leave my parents and siblings, give up everything dear to me, to move far away to a different city in a different county to live with my Great-Grandmother and attend a top rated high school. I hoped this decision would improve my chances to not just gain college admittance but to graduate college too.

This is my story about overcoming adversity, given misinformation several times by two high school councilors; being bullied by a teacher; having an assistant principal tell me my grades weren’t good enough to get into college, sacrifice, fear, and hard work all for a passion to make the world a little better.

Grams and I each had a job, I would focus on my high school education with college attainment as my goal. Grams would do research as college was out of reach for me financially until Grams became best friends with Google and later the local community college adviser.

During our time together navigating the college process, Grams and I discovered 4 important things:

  • How to get me admitted to a highly rated college and what they look for
  • How to access money, without loans, to fund college
  • How to find resources and information plus scholarships
  • Don’t trust everyone

M first step after registering in my new high school was orientation.

Luck was with us as we made our way around tables loaded with information about clubs and activities, but one man stood out. His table was not knee deep in students eagerly asking about clubs or sports. As he motioned for us to walk over, he handed Grams a brochure from the local community college about Dual Enrollment.

We asked, “What was Dual Enrollment?”He took the time to explain what it was, how it worked, and the benefits it offered for high school students interested in college and the difference between Dual classes, AP classes, tests, and transferable college credits.

The college door just flew wide open for me. What if I could earn my associate degree while in high school? How much money would that save me? Did I have the personal determination needed to do that?

At home I researched the classes offered through my high school and community college through Dual Enrollment. With excitement, we met the next day with my high school counselor, who insisted they did not offer Dual Enrollment. I was crushed and Grams refused to accept her information.

Why would a representative be at the orientation if they did not offer dual enrollment? Note: Don’t automatically trust what you are told and never underestimate the power of a Grandmother!

Grams called the community college representative and set an appointment for us to meet. He set everything up for me including a scholarship for the high school dual enrolled classes, and over the next 4 years he became a valuable resource introducing me to college advisers, creating a written path to college via dual enrollment and other help.

My senior year was grueling and stressful due to applyingto my top 5 universities, applying for scholarships, keeping my grades up and finally learning I was accepted. Now I had to decide which universality would be the best fit for me financially and academically.

Success happened for me because of dual enrollment and graduating high school with 41 transferable college credits. That amounts to about an immediate $30,000 savings.

I fell just short of my associates degree goal due to cutting back my senior year some. I have just completed my college freshman year but at the level of a sophomore. I am now an incoming junior.

My university has confirmed, due to my extra classes I have taken and am taking, I am eligible to graduate with my Bachelors degree in 2 and a half years instead of the usual 4 to 5 years. (a goal accomplished) That is like saving $75,000.

My goals to be admitted and to graduate college debt free are almost happening.

Also, I do live on campus to take advantage of opportunities, which is an added expense but one I cover with a campus job.

I do want to confess I wanted to take advantage of some other college opportunities such as a Washington DC internship in congress (summer of 2018) and a study abroad opportunity in Europe (Fall 2019) therefore, in summary, my education costs would have been quite a bit over $140,000 without dual enrollment and scholarships. I am saving lots of money by graduating in 2 and a half years with a total estimated debt under $5000.

For some students, dual enrollment might be a lucrative path. Talk directly with a college adviser at your community college to help create a path for college based on dual enrollment. Note: Not all high schools offer dual enrollment and usually it limits you to your instate colleges who participate or an out of state college with an agreement.

At the same time you must apply for scholarships. I went for the ones that offered $1000 to $5000 as many people won’t take the time to apply to these smaller ones. That means less competition but more work! One more thing I learned is that many scholarships like to see volunteer or community service.

My path is only one of many available ways to attend college without massive debt. I did some things right but also made mistakes. Yes, it is possible to not incur massive debt, and no you don’t have to have a 4.0 GPA. I didn’t.

I worked hard and I thought of my GPA as my “personal currency”. Different opportunities open at the 3.0, 3.25, 3.5 and of course 4.0 GPA levels.

I don’t suggest my path for everyone, but if my story helps just one student, then I have made a valuable contribution.

I’m setting my next sights on law school.

by Anjelica Miller.

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